Scottish independence: How climate change makes the case for Scotland to be in Nato even stronger – Dave Doogan MP

The searing heat felt across Europe in recent days has rightly brought climate change to our attention.

A submarine at a base in the town of Severomorsk, near Murmansk, on Russia's north coast (Picture: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)
A submarine at a base in the town of Severomorsk, near Murmansk, on Russia's north coast (Picture: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

As Scotland lays the groundwork for a referendum next year, and a potential independent future, we must understand how climate change will affect global security and Scotland’s place within that dynamic.

As SNP spokesperson for defence procurement and Scotland’s member on the House of Commons’ Defence Select Committee, I’m fully invested in scoping Scotland’s future defence posture with regard to conventional and unconventional threats including climate.

For some, defence and global warming may not be obviously linked but, as the climate crisis continues to evolve over the coming years, no aspect of government will remain untouched – least of all defence.

It is against this dynamic threat assessment that I prioritise Scotland’s multilateralism with our European and North American neighbours who are so central to our collective security.

The Arctic is heating at three times the rate of the rest of the planet. Continued melting of sea ice will mean increased competition within this historically politically benign region.

It is projected to reach virtually ice-free conditions at its summer minimum at least once before 2050. Natural resources will become accessible, and trans-Arctic trade will become routine.

Russia and China both stand to benefit economically from melting sea ice. The Northwest Passage links Asia and Europe via the Bering Strait, and along Russia’s vast northern coast. These waters are already navigable in summer as sea ice retreats but will become increasingly utilised as a trade route estimated to be some 30 per cent faster than routes via the Indian Ocean.

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Russia is ready to capitalise as set out in their paper, Energy Strategy 2035. They intend to develop mining and gas extraction infrastructure in the Arctic and establish the Northwest Passage as a viable trade route. Currently Russia aims to achieve 80 million tonnes of shipping along the route by 2024 and already transports liquid natural gas to China on the new route.

In 2018, China described itself as a “near-Arctic nation” and outlined ambitions to create a “Polar Silk Road” in the High North. Worth noting is that Scotland is considerably closer to the Arctic than China and we must urgently seek to redress the UK’s naval ambivalence, with surface assets at least, to the Greenland-Iceland Gap.

The increased economic activity in this area will be a challenge for Nato and the European Union. Last year, the EU stated it will “push for oil, coal and gas to stay in the ground, including in Arctic regions”. As a near-Arctic nation, Scotland must be confident in working with our European allies to ensure security in our backyard and the High North.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP recently stated that the UK’s “response to Russia has always been as part of an alliance”. This acknowledgement of the UK’s position globally as an interdependent nation is welcome, and an independent Scotland will be no different, both as an active member of Nato but also as an EU member state.

Re-joining the EU will allow us to once more to inform decision-making together with our European allies. This spirit of multilateralism is the principal way Scotland can successfully affect the defence and climate challenges of the future.

The effects of melting Arctic land ice will not only be felt in the Arctic. Sea levels are expected to rise significantly by 2050, threatening coastal communities with increased flooding in Scotland and across the world.

In Scotland, rainfall will be more frequent and dramatic, falling in greater amounts over shorter periods as part of larger storms. Inevitably this will lead to more flooding, not only from sea levels and rainfall, but also from storm surges whereby low-pressure storm systems cause sea levels to rise even higher in localised areas.

By 2050, flooding is expected to occur at all nine of the UK’s nuclear military establishments, including two which are located in Scotland. The UK Government is currently failing to plan appropriately, with defence ministers misrepresenting median climate scenario modelling as the “worst-case scenario”.

Also by 2050, 75 per cent of the world’s population will be affected by drought. This will inevitably lead to increased conflicts over resources, further refugee crises and migrant flows. Scotland would develop robust protocols which both assist humanitarian priorities while defending Scotland’s interests and those of our allies in conflict.

A key role of Scotland's armed forces will be supporting and deploying on United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, meaning our armed forces must be resourced to provide humanitarian support across the world at high readiness as part of multinational efforts against climate disasters.

The challenges Scotland will face will be mirrored by nations across the world. As an independent nation, Scotland would stand as an active and trusted state actor. Having been muted on the global stage for three centuries, there will be no shortage of willingness for Scotland to speak up and for Scotland’s voice to be heard within the UN, the EU and Nato. These institutions will form the cornerstones of Scottish defence and security.

No nation can prevail in isolation amidst the interwoven dynamic of global security and climate crises. That’s why the UK Government’s inward-looking, treaty-breaching, “Britain first” hostile environment looks jarring and uncomfortable.

I look forward to an independent defence policy shaped by the will of the Scottish people, based on compassion, strength, multilateralism and reliability. The people of Scotland demand no less.

Dave Doogan is the SNP MP for Angus and a member of House of Commons’ Defence Select Committee

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